Looney layout

They do things a little bit differently in Commodore Land. Vanderbilt has higher academic standards and lower athletic standards. It has no athletics director. It has varsity sports that basically operate like intramural programs.

And it has the strangest basketball facility on the planet.

The benches at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville are along the end lines, not the sidelines. This is somewhat akin to putting the dugouts at a baseball park beyond the center field fence.

Vandy's bizarre gym layout offers a positive and a negative. The positive: Each coach is just a few feet from his players as they go to the basket in the second half. The negative: Each coach is 100 feet from his players as they go to the basket in the first half.

Given this imposing distance, communication between coach and players can be a serious problem in the first half. How serious? Consider this: On his initial trip to Memorial Gym last year, Tennessee's Bruce Pearl saw his team shoot just 28.0 percent from the floor en route to a 31-21 halftime deficit. With their coach nearby, though, the Vols bounced back in the second half to shoot 47.1 percent and outscore Vandy 47-28 to win 68-59.

Pearl readily admits that the layout of Vanderbilt's Gym provided quite a challenge last year.

"Yeah, and I think it showed in the first half," he said. "We struggled offensively."

The Vols could struggle again Wednesday night in Nashville, since they start a freshman point guard, Ramar Smith, who counts on a lot of help from the UT bench.

"This will be a lot more responsibility on the point guards," Pearl said, "because they'll have to do some play-calling down at the other end when I can't get to them."

Still, the Vol coach has confidence that Smith and Dane Bradshaw have enough savvy to run the first-half offense with minimal assistance from him. Noting that they combined for 16 assists and just 3 turnovers in Sunday's defeat of Mississippi State, Pearl added: "Dane and Ramar are playing very productively at the position. That (layout) is a challenge playing at Memorial Gymnasium but it's a challenge that everybody has to face."

Bradshaw, a senior who will be making his fourth visit to Memorial Gym, concedes that the facility is "very different," adding: "I think it's all about communication with your bench. It can be a huge advantage on one end and a disadvantage on the other.

"So often, you're looking to your bench for advice and play calls – even on the defensive end, when you see a set and the bench is calling out what play is coming. We're going to have to be prepared as a team and get off to a good start."

Bradshaw easily could be 3-0 at Memorial Gym. He was part of Vol teams that lost close games there in 2004 (61-58) and 2005 (67-62). He believes the key is not letting the gym's unusual layout become a distraction.

"We've been able to deal with it," he said. "Vanderbilt's more used to it than anybody but they have to face the same thing."

That's a fact. They do things a little bit differently in Commodore Land.

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